Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort, a 104-room adults-only property situated on the best beach in Aruba is perhaps the most highly decorated hotel in the Caribbean. Most recently TripAdvisor named it the No. 1 Hotel in the World for Romance and the No. 8 Hotel in the World overall. In both 2015 and 2016 TripAdvisor named it the No. 1 Hotel in the Caribbean. In fact, the resort has been ranked the No. 1 hotel in Aruba for the past 14 years.
In addition to winning awards for delivering exceptional customer service, Bucuti leads all Caribbean hotels for awards bestowed for environmentally sound practices.
The resort runs an annual occupancy in the mid-90’s, and has, until now, maintained a relatively low profile in the hospitality industry. Ewald Biemans, the owner and CEO, however does cut a very high profile when it comes to matters of the environment, which is his passion.
Hospitality Marketing Blog had an opportunity to spend an hour with Mr. Biemans recently to chat about how the resort has been able to achieve such phenomenal success. Fair warning: this is a fairly long article, but packed with insights hoteliers might emulate to increase their world rankings.
Before we start discussing all the things you do at Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort, can you give our readers a little background on your journey through hospitality to where you are today?
I first arrived in Aruba as a visitor in the 60s and fell in love with the island and the people. In the early 70s I came back planning to spend two years and wound up never leaving.
After working in several hospitality positions I became general manager and part owner in a hotel very close to Bucuti on Eagle Beach. In the early 80s the local oil refinery and the top island employer shut down causing an island-wide crisis.
That’s when Aruba really started focusing on tourism to increase employment. At that time the Dutch government was offering excellent loan rates to encourage hotel development and this beautiful piece of beach was available. As they say, the rest is history.
Congratulations on all the recognition Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort has received throughout the years. Topline, what would you say are the key factors in your success?
Bucuti is more than a picture-perfect setting on stunning Eagle Beach surrounded by nature, or the attentive service from our welcoming and caring staff.
We live by one motto and we do it very well. At Bucuti, our focus is on “Peace, Love & Happiness. Naturally.” This translates into tranquility (peace), romance (love), great service (happiness) and total wellbeing — for guests and the environment (naturally).
Just like each grain of powdery white sand is important to creating our awe-inspiring beach, it’s the little things that add up to create a magical experience that is unmatched throughout the world. I have always believed that it is the little things, the subtle details that turn a very good hotel into a great one with an unrivaled experience.
“Peace, Love and Happiness. Naturally” is a nice brand promise. It’s interesting that one of our most recent blog articles was, “The Linkages Between Your Hotel’s Brand Promise, Loyalty and Profitability.” Let’s see how this plays out in real life. What does Bucuti do to make vacationers believe the resort actually delivers on all four of the benefits in your motto?
That’s a very easy question since we all live by it day-in-and-day-out. Let’s take each one in order, starting with Peace. Relaxation begins the moment a guest breathes in the fresh air, refreshes with a cold towel, sips champagne and is able to go straight to their room thanks to our pre-registration and VIP tablet check-in service.
Listen closely. The soundtrack to their romantic getaway is waves lapping the shore, tropical breezes rustling palms, and birds happily chirping from flowery perches. There are no children running around to disturb the peace as we are an adults-only resort. There are no jet skis revving by while you try to nap on one of our thickly padded lounge chairs. We don’t have water sports available on-site, and no commotion from large groups as we do not accept group bookings or host weddings. In fact, the largest table at our Elements restaurant only seats six. We have created one of the most peaceful beach settings I have ever seen.
Now what about “Love?” To be recognized as the No. 1 Hotel in the World for Romance you must create a truly magical experience. Tell me about it.
To start, Bucuti is a boutique resort that caters to couples seeking a romantic getaway. We welcome everyone and are a GLBT TAG approved hotel. Intimate tables for two are primarily what you’ll find in all of our restaurants. Guests can always find a spot to toast their love while enjoying stunning sunset views at our beachfront SandBar.
Sometime back The SandBar was getting crowded with guests from other hotels wanting to enjoy our hospitality and spectacular sunsets. This made it difficult for our guests to find a seat and enjoy the beverage of their choice. So after hearing a few complaints we made it available exclusively to our hotel guests. This did reduce revenue, but resulted in creating a much more serene and romantic environment with full attention dedicated to our resort guests.
Leisurely strolls on the sand are always an intimate moment — whether it’s during the day or under the stars — thanks to our uncrowded and very spacious beach.
Guests celebrating a special occasion, such as a honeymoon or anniversary love to stay in one of our Penthouse Suites and enjoy their own private palapa on the beach for daytime relaxation. In the evening, the palapas may be booked for a romantic dinner on the beach.
We have even put televisions in the mirrors in every bathroom. Guests can catch the last fifteen minutes of a show while getting ready for bed allowing even more time for romance.
It sounds as though you, the management and the staff try to think of everything. What are the steps you take to ensure the happiness of your guests?
Funny that you should say that, we do try to think of everything. It’s no secret and it’s not very hard really. We listen to our guests and we do what they want, even if it costs us money. Like when we made the SandBar exclusively for guests or decided not to cater to the wedding market. Both disrupt the overall relaxing and romantic ambiance of the resort.
When we first opened, like many hotels we tried to be all things to all people, but that really didn’t work. We didn’t have a kid’s program so they were bored. Weddings and groups created a party atmosphere which disrupted other guests. It was less than ideal as the other guests told us. Over time, by listening to our guests we have developed our niche and are very happy with it. So are our guests as you can see from our occupancy.
A great source of guest feedback is TripAdvisor. I read every review and provide a thoughtful response to everyone who takes the time to write one. We are approaching 4,000 reviews and still carry a 5-Star rating or 5-Bubbles in TripAdvisor parlance.
I believe the most treasured souvenirs are the memorable moments our guests share with one another. Aruba is “One Happy Island” and we encourage guests to explore it to their heart’s content. Unlike many hotels that want their guests to spend every dollar on property we want them to experience Aruba. Our concierge is available to recommend and schedule any off-property activities they desire, including local restaurants, evening entertainment, water activities and more.
In the end, if they have a great vacation in Aruba and at Bucuti, they will return. Worry about maximizing customer satisfaction and the bottom line will take care of itself. We know it and are committed to it even if it hurts financially short term. You have to take a long-term view if you ever want to get to where you need to be.
Our associates are genuinely happy to be at your service. That’s why we offer red flag service, so guests can let us know when they need us, and why my senior management team and I personally walk around the resort every day to speak to guests. I’m originally from Austria and speak six languages and have found guests from Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Italy really do enjoy speaking directly to the owner in their native tongue.
We also know that happiness means not feeling like you’re being “nickel and dimed.” Our rates include all taxes and daily breakfast — there are no hidden fees. I also believe in providing good value for money. We have only two sets of rates — summer and winter. Since we believe we have very competitive rates we don’t offer all sorts of deals to attract customers only to disappoint them when they calculate the “true” cost of their vacations. Many hotels rely on this technique which I feel runs contrary to the needs and desires of today’s traveler. All the research points to being up-front and honest with consumers. This approach has paid off for Bucuti.
We also believe in providing added-value such as free Wi-Fi resort-wide, including the beach, free iPad to use during your stay, two happy hours daily with top-shelf liquor and free movies on the beach twice a week.
You have obviously done your research on your customers to ensure that Bucuti is delivering what they want when they want it. From everything you read today that’s one of the most important things a hotel can do to satisfy today’s demanding guests.
Let’s switch subjects for a second to your “passionate concern” for the environment. You are widely known as one of the Caribbean’s most outspoken environmentalists. What is it that makes you so passionate?
Many hoteliers believe they are in the tourism business. I say no — nature is our business. Without these beautiful beaches, thriving reefs and our clean ocean people wouldn’t come. Bucuti has been green from Day One.
I am deeply concerned about the well-being of both our guests and of the world. The talk of global warming is particularly concerning and we work hard at the resort level to do our part to counter climate change as well as invite others to join the efforts.
Protecting the environment is not only important to us, but also to our guests. Guests are invited to get involved with our Green Stay Program, beach cleanups and even by drinking water in our complimentary souvenir canteens that reduce the use of plastic water bottles. The efforts make an impact in protecting the pristine beach where we see — and protect — endangered sea turtles that nest every year.
Bucuti was the first Caribbean resort to achieve LEED Silver certification. This is a demanding certification recognizing Bucuti as a “green” building made doubly difficult since it involved retro-fitting existing structures as opposed to planning new construction. In total Bucuti has four green certifications, including Green Globe, Travelife Gold and ISO 14001.
In Aruba we live on an island, one that is much like many Caribbean destinations and not much above sea level. The threat of global warming and rising seas has to be a major concern for every government, hotel and anyone living in the region or making their livelihood from the region. Islands are a perishable product so everyone needs to get on board to help preserve it. Every little bit helps and our certifications guide us in maintaining a long list of best practices.
To make sure our guests are healthy we have a dehumidifier and HEPA air purifier in every room. Aruba is an island in the middle of the Caribbean and the air is wonderful, but I feel it can be even better and that our guests deserve it. That’s why we do it.
At Elements restaurant, menus cater to special dietary preferences, such as gluten free, vegetarian and vegan. We also recently introduced smaller portion sizes to reduce waste and allow for an expanded culinary experience. Our resort is primarily non-smoking, except for three designated areas outside, of course.
Thank you, Ewald. Your story of doing the right thing even though it may be difficult and the success that you, your staff and Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort has achieved is something every hotelier around the word should find inspirational. It has been a real pleasure talking to you today.
The pleasure is all mine. Thank you for visiting.
There is one last thing I would like to say to all the hoteliers or journalists who read this. While I am obviously very proud of what we have accomplished at Bucuti, I am always happy to share my thoughts. If you ever find yourself in Aruba and would like to know more about Bucuti, please give me a call.
It appears as though the Deloitte analysis of the J.D. Power 2015 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study is correct, at least as far as Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort is concerned. It concludes that:
“Underlying the guest experience, a hotel’s brand promise can have a strong impact on business results. Knowing what your brand stands for — and delivering on that promise — can serve as a key to long-term success. Loyalty and commitment are strongest when a brand offers a differentiated brand promise and consistently delivers on that promise by providing an outstanding experience.”
If you have a question or would like to leave a comment, please do.
Learn more about Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort in Aruba.